The new Joe Camel? Candy-flavored liquid nicotine is a poisoning danger to kids

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E-cigs might not produce the second-hand smoke we associate with traditional cigarettes, but there’s been a sharp rise in poisoning from the liquid nicotine used in the increasingly popular battery-powered inhalers — and young children are particularly at risk, CBS News reports.

This year, more than 2,700 people have called poison control because of exposure to liquid nicotine, says the article — about 215 calls per month, up from about one a month in 2010. And more than half of those cases involved children younger than 6. The nicotine comes in brightly colored refill bottles and is often candy-flavored, making it particularly attractive to youngsters.

"With kids, the exposure we're seeing is usually [when] parents or family members leave out refill bottles that they try and open," Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center, told CBS.

Although no child deaths from liquid nicotine consumption have been reported, the California Public Health Association-North website underlines the drug’s lethal nature: “Liquid nicotine for e-cigarettes is commonly sold in 15 milliliter bottles containing 36 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of liquid. This is enough to kill four young children.”

Serious effects short of fatality, says Consumer Reports, can include irregular heartbeat, coma, convulsions and cardiac arrest.

An additional source of worry where kids are concerned, CBS reports, is that liquid nicotine doesn't have to be swallowed to be harmful; skin exposure alone can be toxic.

These concerns have led to a call for child-resistant caps on the vape bottles, which many manufacturers have already begun using. There is no uniform regulation mandating them at this point, but Vermont and Minnesota have passed legislation requiring them, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The Vermont statute went into effect in April, and the Minnesota bill becomes law on January 1, 2015.

One initiative at the federal level, the Child Nicotine Poison Prevention Act of 2014, would require child-safe packaging on the bottles. Introduced in the Senate in July and the House in September, it remains in committee in the Senate, and Govtrack.us gives it only a 20 percent chance of passage.

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